Modern day society tells us that we're not enough. It tells us that we need this body or that product to be accepted, to be loved. Shaming is nothing more than a business and it's a trap I've fallen into over and over again.
I went on my first self-imposted diet in middle school, quickly switching to a vegan lifestyle a few years later in high school. I wanted the "perfect" body, the body I saw women idolized for on TV, in magazines and in the movies.
But these diets weren't giving me the results I wanted, so I looked into female fitness competitions. I traded in my tempeh and lentils for dry chicken breast and broccoli.
After three years of rigorous training, damaging diets and weekends spent alone drinking protein shakes, I finally had the "perfect" body. I was lean and tone with a firm, round butt. It was what I'd always dreamed of.
Except now, I was more depressed than I'd ever been in my life.
I looked at other women spending time with their kids and envied what they had. I heard about girls my age spending Saturday nights together drinking wine and watching movies, and felt a pang of sadness. I couldn't drink wine because the sugar would lead to next-day bloat and my period had stopped coming as a result of my physique, so kids were out of the question.
I feared 90% of food. I wouldn't touch anything if it wasn't part of my prescribed meal plan (not even a blueberry or bell pepper). I was so rigid that I couldn't even eat salads. I had created consequences in my head, fearing that if I ate "this," then "that" would happen.
If I ate too many calories, I would gain weight. If I gained weight, I would lose my sex appeal.
Want to know the funniest part about all of this? I had nobody to share this so-called sex appeal with. I was alone all the time. When I did date, I was spending time with guys who only cared about my looks. I was subconsciously creating a body that was attracting the wrong type of person.
I know this because I couldn't do anything besides look "fit." I couldn't eat out or do anything spontaneous (missing one of my six small meals each day was not an option). I couldn't be physical (you lose all your sex drive when you're starved because your body conserves energy in all the areas you don't absolutely need it), and I couldn't have conversations that didn't revolve around my body or fitness goals.
My mind was consumed. More than this, I had a terrible relationship with my body.
I was always in fear that if I lost my "perfect" body, I'd also lose the "perfect" life I thought I had. But the reality was that outside of my skin, muscle and bones, I had nothing.
But the truth is that the female body is designed to carry a little extra fat. In fact, men are wired to enjoy a little something on a woman's bones — it's their primal instinct. Unfortunately, that beautiful, shapely physique is not what makes money by today's media standards.
The models you see in fitness magazines are paid to look that way. It's their job to sell swimsuits and weight loss pills. They are designed to look like something you think you want, to sell something you don't have that in theory will make you better, happier, sexier. It's something we can buy into, literally, mentally and physically.
So how did I, a woman who had been obsessed with dieting and weight for almost her entire life, escape this self-deprecating mindset and limiting lifestyle? The process was long and detailed, and it certainly didn't happen overnight. But here are a few things I began to do once I realized things needed to change.
1. I spent less time on social media.
Social media oftentimes breeds a comparing mind. You see only the best parts of other people's lives and imagine it's how their whole life goes; just a big ball of perfection and bliss, all day every day. This is one of the most misleading things you can do for your mind and body.
2. I started being social again.
Once I finally released my tight grip on dieting, I realized I could go on dates and experience life. I learned to enjoy eating meals without thinking about the macro breakdown. When I started enjoying myself, I realized that people who really mattered, who would be positive forces in my life, cared more about who I was on the inside, and not minor details of my body.
3. I reflected on the qualities I look for in a partner.
Though this may be hard to believe, even while I was doing fitness competitions, I had a rule: I wouldn't date bodybuilders. I had gone out with a few here and there, thinking that since our lifestyles were so similar, we'd get along. Truthfully though, nothing could have been further from what I wanted.
Not that I have anything against bodybuilders whatsoever, but they have to be rigid in their diets and controlling of their lifestyles. They have to constantly be aware of their appearance and aesthetics, which I knew was what I needed to avoid obsessing about. The fact that I was against dating this type of person really opened my eyes. Why was I trying so hard to be like somebody that I myself didn't desire?
Of course there were more things I did to improve my self-love and body acceptance, but these were a few of my main practices.
This story is one that I want to share with as many women as possible. It's my goal to share my journey so that you're one step closer to unconditionally loving your already-perfect physique.
Block out what the media tries to tell you is "perfect" and instead look at everything you already are and have. Be grateful for your balance and body, because it's all you, through and through.